Commentary Magazine


Topic: Catholic Church

The U.N.’s War on Religious Liberty

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child didn’t break any new ground when it issued a report criticizing the Catholic Church for the sexual abuse scandal in which priests were found to have abused large numbers of children while the church hierarchy protected the priests. The egregious nature of the scandal has been amply documented, as has the church’s shameful record in responding to the accusations. While it can be argued, as the UN Committee did, that more can be done, the fact is the church has already paid a terrible price both in terms of its reputation and the drain on its wealth because of the legal restitution it has paid to survivors. As investigations of these crimes continue, that price is likely to go higher and it is to be hoped that Pope Francis will ensure that the institution he leads will make good on its promises to create the necessary safeguards to make certain that the church will never again turn a blind eye to the victimization of children entrusted to its care.

But while the UN Committee was justified in speaking of the church’s past sins, the world body did not content itself with harsh rhetoric about the sexual abuse scandal. It went further, denouncing the Vatican for a number of its religious doctrines. As the New York Times reports:

The report, issued in Geneva, addressed issues far beyond child sexual abuse, taking the Vatican to task for its opposition to contraception, homosexuality and abortion in cases of child rape and incest. The committee even suggested that the church amend its canon laws to permit abortions for pregnant girls whose lives and health are at risk.

The views of the UN committee may represent the views of many associated with the world body and, indeed, perhaps, of the majority of Americans. But for a United Nations agency to demand that one of the world’s great religions change its beliefs in this manner is outrageous. The “suggestions” of the UN not only have nothing to do with the sexual abuse scandal, they represent a symptom of the contempt for religious freedom that is increasingly popular among global liberal elites, including some in the United States.

Read More

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child didn’t break any new ground when it issued a report criticizing the Catholic Church for the sexual abuse scandal in which priests were found to have abused large numbers of children while the church hierarchy protected the priests. The egregious nature of the scandal has been amply documented, as has the church’s shameful record in responding to the accusations. While it can be argued, as the UN Committee did, that more can be done, the fact is the church has already paid a terrible price both in terms of its reputation and the drain on its wealth because of the legal restitution it has paid to survivors. As investigations of these crimes continue, that price is likely to go higher and it is to be hoped that Pope Francis will ensure that the institution he leads will make good on its promises to create the necessary safeguards to make certain that the church will never again turn a blind eye to the victimization of children entrusted to its care.

But while the UN Committee was justified in speaking of the church’s past sins, the world body did not content itself with harsh rhetoric about the sexual abuse scandal. It went further, denouncing the Vatican for a number of its religious doctrines. As the New York Times reports:

The report, issued in Geneva, addressed issues far beyond child sexual abuse, taking the Vatican to task for its opposition to contraception, homosexuality and abortion in cases of child rape and incest. The committee even suggested that the church amend its canon laws to permit abortions for pregnant girls whose lives and health are at risk.

The views of the UN committee may represent the views of many associated with the world body and, indeed, perhaps, of the majority of Americans. But for a United Nations agency to demand that one of the world’s great religions change its beliefs in this manner is outrageous. The “suggestions” of the UN not only have nothing to do with the sexual abuse scandal, they represent a symptom of the contempt for religious freedom that is increasingly popular among global liberal elites, including some in the United States.

It is important to note that none of these beliefs has anything to do with the abuse of children or the toleration of sexual predators. The crimes of which some priests were accused were entirely unrelated to Catholic doctrine and, it must be emphasized, constituted a gross violation of the church’s beliefs. To imply anything to the contrary is a terrible libel that should be retracted.

One need not share the church’s views on homosexuality, contraception, or abortion to understand that when governments or world bodies such as the United Nations venture into the realm of what faiths may or may not practice or preach, it constitutes a mortal threat to religious liberty. Here in the United States we have seen a conflict over the Obama administration’s efforts to impose a mandate forcing religious institutions and their adherents to pay for services that offend their faith. If upheld by the courts, that ObamaCare mandate would constitute an intolerable infringement on the First Amendment rights of religious freedom from government intrusion.

But what the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has done here is to suggest that the beliefs of the Catholic Church on social issues somehow fall outside of the pale of the civilized world. One doesn’t have to delve too deeply into Europe’s dark history of religious persecution to see what happens when unpopular beliefs are branded in this manner. Just as Catholics are now advised what they may or may not believe about these issues, Jews are being told by some of the same liberal elites in Europe that religious practices such as circumcision or kosher slaughter may likewise be prohibited by law. Despite the fact that those issuing these pronouncements claim they are doing so in the name of the rights of children or some other seemingly laudable cause, such efforts are a well-worn shortcut to tyranny and the abrogation of religious liberty.

The church should unequivocally reject the UN Committee’s pronouncements about faith. So, too, should everyone who values and wishes to preserve freedom of religion for all people. 

Read Less

Religious Liberty Triumphs Over OCare

The Obama administration’s effort to force religious organizations and employers to pay for services that violate their beliefs largely provided the basis for the presidential reelection campaign’s faux “war on women” talking point. As such, it must be considered a success as it turned a debate on the constitutionality of the ObamaCare mandate forcing all employers to pay for contraception and abortion drugs into one about the supposed indifference to the rights of women on the part of conservatives. But the legal battle over the fate of the Health and Human Services Department mandate in the courts is not going quite so well for the president. Yesterday, the administration received its sternest judicial rebuke yet as the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, New York granted a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the mandate against four nonprofits operated by the Catholic Diocese of New York. As the New York Times reports:

The ruling, by Brian M. Cogan of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, found that forcing the groups to authorize a third party to provide contraceptive care still violated their religious beliefs even if they were not financially supporting contraception. Churches are already exempt from the mandate to provide contraceptive care.

This is just one of the 88 cases that have been brought against the government by those rightly citing the mandate as a violation of their constitutional rights. But this is the first time the plaintiffs have received a permanent injunction that prevents the government from either enforcing the provision or levying crippling fines against violators. The U.S. Supreme Court will eventually settle this question. But until that happens lower courts still have the ability to bring down financial ruin upon dissenters against the mandate. Though liberals have attempted to spin this issue as one in which church-run agencies (in this case, two high schools and two health-care systems) or private employers are imposing their beliefs on their employees, in fact it is the government that is forcing believers and faith-based institutions to violate their beliefs. The victory in Brooklyn, like other triumphs for the mandate critics in other courts, is one more indication that the legal tide may be turning against a liberal effort to prioritize a vision of national health care over the First Amendment.

Read More

The Obama administration’s effort to force religious organizations and employers to pay for services that violate their beliefs largely provided the basis for the presidential reelection campaign’s faux “war on women” talking point. As such, it must be considered a success as it turned a debate on the constitutionality of the ObamaCare mandate forcing all employers to pay for contraception and abortion drugs into one about the supposed indifference to the rights of women on the part of conservatives. But the legal battle over the fate of the Health and Human Services Department mandate in the courts is not going quite so well for the president. Yesterday, the administration received its sternest judicial rebuke yet as the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, New York granted a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the mandate against four nonprofits operated by the Catholic Diocese of New York. As the New York Times reports:

The ruling, by Brian M. Cogan of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, found that forcing the groups to authorize a third party to provide contraceptive care still violated their religious beliefs even if they were not financially supporting contraception. Churches are already exempt from the mandate to provide contraceptive care.

This is just one of the 88 cases that have been brought against the government by those rightly citing the mandate as a violation of their constitutional rights. But this is the first time the plaintiffs have received a permanent injunction that prevents the government from either enforcing the provision or levying crippling fines against violators. The U.S. Supreme Court will eventually settle this question. But until that happens lower courts still have the ability to bring down financial ruin upon dissenters against the mandate. Though liberals have attempted to spin this issue as one in which church-run agencies (in this case, two high schools and two health-care systems) or private employers are imposing their beliefs on their employees, in fact it is the government that is forcing believers and faith-based institutions to violate their beliefs. The victory in Brooklyn, like other triumphs for the mandate critics in other courts, is one more indication that the legal tide may be turning against a liberal effort to prioritize a vision of national health care over the First Amendment.

It bears repeating that one needn’t share the Catholic beliefs about contraception or abortion put forward by the church or other believers (such as the owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of stores that will have their appeal of the mandate heard by the Supreme Court) to realize that what is at stake in these cases is nothing less than the future of religious freedom in this country.

Neither the church nor private businesses are preventing their employees from using contraception or having abortions. What they are doing is saying is that a law that forces them to pay for such services despite their religious principles against doing so is patently unconstitutional. Only in the legal universe of ObamaCare, which puts forward the dubious notion that not only do Americans have the right to use contraception or abortion but also that everyone is entitled to have their employers pay for it regardless of their religious principles, is this controversial. The notion that the refusal of religious believers to subsidize behavior that offends their faith is a form of discrimination against women is a legal absurdity. As the Diocese correctly noted in a statement:

“The court has correctly cut through the artificial construct which essentially made faith-based organizations other than churches and other houses of worship second-class citizens with second-class First Amendment protections,” Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said in a statement.

The point here is that a definition of religious liberty in which faith has no place in the public square is one that is inconsistent with the Constitution as well as with the principles of a free society. Religious freedom is not just the right to pray at home or in church, synagogue, or mosque but the ability to live one’s faith in public. While the Obama administration’s effort to provide universal health-care coverage may be well-intentioned, the fact that it views its mandates as superseding the First Amendment rights of citizens is an ominous indication of what happens when government gives itself such powers.

The injunction granted in Brooklyn is but one skirmish in what has been a long legal war. But it is encouraging to see that in this case, as in others, there are judges who still value freedom more than a belief in the power of big government to impose its values on the people.

Read Less

The Legacy of Faith

One didn’t have to be a Catholic to be impressed by the demeanor and grace shown by Pope Francis after his election yesterday at the Vatican. The media is full of pundits and so-called experts giving the pope advice as to how to deal with his church’s problems or even on how best to adjust its doctrines to suit their beliefs. That seems to me to be not only absurd but also a waste of time. As the first South American and the first Jesuit pope, Francis is a symbol of change. But if there is anything that observers should take away from the drama that has unfolded in Rome this last week it is that the Catholic Church remains firmly in the hands of those who love its teachings and are determined to both preserve them and to help ensure that they continue to serve the needs of the faithful and the world in general.

That is good news indeed, since in the last century the church has reasserted itself as a force for good. Especially under the leadership of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, the church has become a beacon of conviction against anti-Semitism. As a disciple of John Paul II and someone who had warm relations with Argentine Jewry, Pope Francis appears to be very much part of that movement. While that might appear to be a parochial concern for Jews, it is actually very significant.

The point about the transformation of the church over the last century from an institution that fomented prejudice against Jews to one that is in the forefront of those fighting against anti-Semitism cannot be emphasized enough. The church has not only cleaned its own house with respect to a legacy of hate; it has become a stalwart partner in the struggle to eradicate it everywhere.

Read More

One didn’t have to be a Catholic to be impressed by the demeanor and grace shown by Pope Francis after his election yesterday at the Vatican. The media is full of pundits and so-called experts giving the pope advice as to how to deal with his church’s problems or even on how best to adjust its doctrines to suit their beliefs. That seems to me to be not only absurd but also a waste of time. As the first South American and the first Jesuit pope, Francis is a symbol of change. But if there is anything that observers should take away from the drama that has unfolded in Rome this last week it is that the Catholic Church remains firmly in the hands of those who love its teachings and are determined to both preserve them and to help ensure that they continue to serve the needs of the faithful and the world in general.

That is good news indeed, since in the last century the church has reasserted itself as a force for good. Especially under the leadership of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, the church has become a beacon of conviction against anti-Semitism. As a disciple of John Paul II and someone who had warm relations with Argentine Jewry, Pope Francis appears to be very much part of that movement. While that might appear to be a parochial concern for Jews, it is actually very significant.

The point about the transformation of the church over the last century from an institution that fomented prejudice against Jews to one that is in the forefront of those fighting against anti-Semitism cannot be emphasized enough. The church has not only cleaned its own house with respect to a legacy of hate; it has become a stalwart partner in the struggle to eradicate it everywhere.

The church’s turn against anti-Semitism and the Vatican’s recognition of the legitimacy of the State of Israel cannot be isolated from the role it played in standing for freedom against Communist tyranny during the Cold War. As that struggle recedes into memory, the church remains a bulwark for the cause of religious freedom throughout the globe. That’s why it is so disappointing that so many who are quite vocal about advocacy for religious freedom elsewhere were silent when it came to standing with the church as it sought to defend its own liberty of conscience against the federal government’s health care mandates.

Ironically, for much of the last century as the church did evolve to its current position on these issues, it has suffered from the abuse heaped upon it and other organized religions from intellectuals and the world of popular culture. Some writers have told us that ours is an age in which atheism has gone mainstream and a time when traditional faiths must abandon their beliefs in order to become more “relevant” to the young. But the outpouring of good will for the new pope shows that those who have predicted the decline of religion are almost certainly wrong.

Though it is beset with many problems as well as scandals that still hang over some of its leaders, the church’s legacy of faith is one that continues to nurture and inspire its believers as well as sympathetic observers from other faiths. All persons of faith should join with Catholics to pray for Francis’s success and to hope that the church will remain steadfast in its mission as a force for good.

Read Less

Church Shouldn’t Stand Alone on Mandate

If President Obama thought he could separate the Catholic Church from other critics of the ObamaCare mandate compelling believers to pay for services that violate their faith, he was wrong. The administration thought the compromise it announced February 1 would accomplish just that objective since it broadened the narrow exemptions from the Health and Human Services Department mandate to include religious non-profits. But while the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed this movement, it rightly noted that it fell far short of guaranteeing that persons of faith would have their religious freedom protected from the dictates of the federal government. As the organization’s statement made clear, the head of the conference, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City, listed three major problems with the proposal:

He [Cardinal Dolan] listed three key areas of concern: the narrow understanding of a religious ministry; compelling church ministries to fund and facilitate services such as contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization that violate Catholic teaching; and disregard of the conscience rights of for-profit business owners.

In refusing to be co-opted into the mandate to pay for abortion and contraceptive services, the bishops have made it clear that the fight against the strong-arming of faith by the government will not go unchallenged. In doing so, they deserve the support of all faith groups as well as all persons of conscience who value the protections guaranteed Americans by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Read More

If President Obama thought he could separate the Catholic Church from other critics of the ObamaCare mandate compelling believers to pay for services that violate their faith, he was wrong. The administration thought the compromise it announced February 1 would accomplish just that objective since it broadened the narrow exemptions from the Health and Human Services Department mandate to include religious non-profits. But while the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed this movement, it rightly noted that it fell far short of guaranteeing that persons of faith would have their religious freedom protected from the dictates of the federal government. As the organization’s statement made clear, the head of the conference, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City, listed three major problems with the proposal:

He [Cardinal Dolan] listed three key areas of concern: the narrow understanding of a religious ministry; compelling church ministries to fund and facilitate services such as contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization that violate Catholic teaching; and disregard of the conscience rights of for-profit business owners.

In refusing to be co-opted into the mandate to pay for abortion and contraceptive services, the bishops have made it clear that the fight against the strong-arming of faith by the government will not go unchallenged. In doing so, they deserve the support of all faith groups as well as all persons of conscience who value the protections guaranteed Americans by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The point of this exchange as far as the administration was concerned was an effort to isolate those who are still pursuing legal challenges against the mandate by offering the church a plausible path to retreat from the confrontation. Doing so would have been taking the easy way out for the church since most of their institutions have now been rendered exempt. But Cardinal Dolan and his colleagues have rightly pointed out that the underlying compulsion of the Mandate would still compromise their faith as well as leave private business owners vulnerable to such coercion.

It needs to be reiterated that you don’t have to agree with the Church’s views about abortion or contraception to support their stand on this issue. Contrary to the false narrative on this issue alleging that a faux “war on women” was being waged by opponents of the mandate that was used by the president during his re-election campaign, what is at stake here is an attempt by the administration to narrowly redefine the concept of religious liberty. If the president prevails on this point, the right to dissent on religious grounds from prevailing views about these matters will be swept out of the public square and confined to the right to preach about it in houses of worship.

By entangling the Church in the ObamaCare system in this manner and allowing neither agencies nor their employees or private businesses to opt out, the government is enacting a rule that tramples on their freedom.

Cardinal Dolan eloquently summed up this dilemma:

In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath. We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.

There is no reasonable argument to be made on behalf of the idea that there is a constitutional right to free contraception or abortion, but if the government decides, as it has with ObamaCare, to enact a new entitlement to provide such services it may do so. Yet the desire to implement this entitlement cannot be allowed to override or negate the constitutional right to freedom of religion. This is an issue that cannot be dismissed on the ground that the majority of Americans don’t oppose contraception or do not otherwise share the faith of those groups and individuals who are challenging the mandate in court. If the rest of the country watches passively as the mandate is fought in the name of religious liberty, we will all be the losers. The Church is right to stand its ground. It should not be allowed to stand it alone.

Read Less

An Inadequate Contraception Compromise

Last year’s Supreme Court decision declaring ObamaCare constitutional ensured that the massive expansion of government power would go forward, but it did not remove all legal challenges to the legislation. Religious organizations rightly objected to the bill’s mandate that even those who objected on religious grounds had to pay for services that violated their beliefs. Opponents of the mandate were falsely portrayed last year as taking part in a Republican “war on women” that helped whip up support for President Obama and the Democrats. Yet Church groups and others who opposed being compelled to pay for abortion drugs and contraception services rejected those slurs and challenged the mandate in court with lawsuits that were proceeding with mixed success.

But after today, some of those suits will be dropped after the White House announced a limited retreat on the issue. According to reports, the administration will no longer insist that religious non-profits observe the mandate or be in any way made to pay for services that offend their consciences. This is very good news for church institutions that were not previously exempted. But it is by no means the end of the story. Under the revised rules, individual business owners—such as those who run the Hobby Lobby store chain—who similarly object on religious grounds, are still liable to ruinous penalties amounting to millions of dollars. This amounts to a cribbed definition of religious freedom that limits its expressions only to non-profits and houses of worship, but forces all others to bend to the dictates of the federal government even at the cost of their right to practice their faith.

Read More

Last year’s Supreme Court decision declaring ObamaCare constitutional ensured that the massive expansion of government power would go forward, but it did not remove all legal challenges to the legislation. Religious organizations rightly objected to the bill’s mandate that even those who objected on religious grounds had to pay for services that violated their beliefs. Opponents of the mandate were falsely portrayed last year as taking part in a Republican “war on women” that helped whip up support for President Obama and the Democrats. Yet Church groups and others who opposed being compelled to pay for abortion drugs and contraception services rejected those slurs and challenged the mandate in court with lawsuits that were proceeding with mixed success.

But after today, some of those suits will be dropped after the White House announced a limited retreat on the issue. According to reports, the administration will no longer insist that religious non-profits observe the mandate or be in any way made to pay for services that offend their consciences. This is very good news for church institutions that were not previously exempted. But it is by no means the end of the story. Under the revised rules, individual business owners—such as those who run the Hobby Lobby store chain—who similarly object on religious grounds, are still liable to ruinous penalties amounting to millions of dollars. This amounts to a cribbed definition of religious freedom that limits its expressions only to non-profits and houses of worship, but forces all others to bend to the dictates of the federal government even at the cost of their right to practice their faith.

It needs to be restated that one needn’t share the views of the Catholic Church about contraception or abortion to understand that what is at stake here is a principle of religious freedom that ought not to be sacrificed. The notion of universal and free contraception insurance coverage may be popular and even desirable for those who have no qualms about the government’s intrusion into this sphere of the economy or the consequent ruinous costs to both the taxpayers and the healthcare system. But however much the idea of free contraception appeals to some people, it is not a constitutional right. Nor is it a value that ought to trump the primary guarantees of the First Amendment that protect liberty of faith.

The White House retreat on the issue to the extent of exempting church institutions including schools is a sign of progress. It’s also intended to separate the church from individual believers whose rights will not be protected by this compromise. The church has been wrongly portrayed as trying to thwart the availability of contraception even though it is doing no such thing. The point of the administration’s campaign on this issue was not, as they claimed, to protect the health of women but to demonize those who stood up for their rights. But however much this retreat will be welcomed, it should not cause those who have fought this mandate to back down from their efforts to ensure that all believers and not just those registered as non-profits are allowed to opt out of a system that tramples on their faith.

At the core of this struggle is the question of whether a government that has given itself more power has the right to run roughshod over the First Amendment in order to satisfy the liberal ambition to move toward a national health care system. Religious freedom does not consist merely of the right to preach in churches or synagogues, but in allowing those who believe to fully participate in society. If the mandate tramples faith by individuals in this manner, it means that faith is no longer welcome in the public square but instead must be segregated and confined to houses of worship. Though the church is happily no longer in peril of such compulsion, others remain in the government’s cross hairs. Their challenge should continue and be rewarded with success in the courts.

Read Less

It’s Not Just the Church and Penn State

The unfolding scandal about sexual abuse at the BBC can be viewed as yet another blow to the image of the media. The network’s suppression of a story about a longtime show host’s alleged crimes ought to put a fork in the myth of the Beeb being the gold standard for impartiality and integrity. The fact that the BBC killed a story on its “Newsnight” broadcast while at the same time running tributes to the late Jimmy Saville, the man accused of molesting and raping several teenagers will haunt it for a long time to come.

But as much as this story tells us about the BBC, this latest tale of sexual misconduct is not dissimilar from other abuse scandals. Like the pedophilia outrages that rocked the Catholic Church and the Penn State University football team, there is a familiar pattern at work here. Powerful individuals used their positions to exploit young people in their charge while institutions looked the other way and then did what they could to ensure that no one found out. Investigators will, no doubt, discover what officials at the BBC knew about Saville and when they knew it. It is also to be hoped that the “journalistic decision” to spike the story about the investigation will also be fully explored. However, this episode ought to remind us that such crimes are not solely the province of Catholic priests or football coaches but can also be discovered at those institutions run by the supposedly enlightened classes.

Read More

The unfolding scandal about sexual abuse at the BBC can be viewed as yet another blow to the image of the media. The network’s suppression of a story about a longtime show host’s alleged crimes ought to put a fork in the myth of the Beeb being the gold standard for impartiality and integrity. The fact that the BBC killed a story on its “Newsnight” broadcast while at the same time running tributes to the late Jimmy Saville, the man accused of molesting and raping several teenagers will haunt it for a long time to come.

But as much as this story tells us about the BBC, this latest tale of sexual misconduct is not dissimilar from other abuse scandals. Like the pedophilia outrages that rocked the Catholic Church and the Penn State University football team, there is a familiar pattern at work here. Powerful individuals used their positions to exploit young people in their charge while institutions looked the other way and then did what they could to ensure that no one found out. Investigators will, no doubt, discover what officials at the BBC knew about Saville and when they knew it. It is also to be hoped that the “journalistic decision” to spike the story about the investigation will also be fully explored. However, this episode ought to remind us that such crimes are not solely the province of Catholic priests or football coaches but can also be discovered at those institutions run by the supposedly enlightened classes.

Each set of circumstances may be different. But all these cases boil down to predators using their status and authority to rape and molest and institutions that valued their image more than the lives of children. These are odious crimes, but they are not the sole province of any particular group or class. They can be found anywhere. Those who think otherwise are not only deluded. They are enabling those who use the cover of seemingly respected professions to commit similar offenses.

Read Less

ObamaCare and the War on the Church

It may be that the Supreme Court’s pending decision on the constitutionality of ObamaCare will render moot the controversy about whether Catholic institutions can be compelled to pay for practices that they oppose on religious grounds. But no matter how the court rules, the impact of the increasingly nasty effort to discredit the church’s effort to defend itself will still be felt. A good example of how liberals are trying to brand the church’s defenders as “partisans” when the opposite is true, came in the editorial in Sunday’s New York Times that branded the lawsuit launched by church institutions as a “stunt.”

The Times argues that the government’s attempt to compel the church to violate its principles was not a violation of its rights and further claims the inadequate “compromise” proposed by the White House should have silenced their concerns. This is an absurd distortion of the facts, but far worse is the way the Times — following the Obama campaign’s playbook — tries to claim that Catholics seek to impose their beliefs on others. Quite the contrary, it is the government fiat that employees at Catholic institutions are provided with free contraception that is the imposition. The point here is not so much to advance the cause of women’s health — the justification advocates of the government’s position seek to use — but to demonize a faith group that has the temerity to stick up for its rights.

Read More

It may be that the Supreme Court’s pending decision on the constitutionality of ObamaCare will render moot the controversy about whether Catholic institutions can be compelled to pay for practices that they oppose on religious grounds. But no matter how the court rules, the impact of the increasingly nasty effort to discredit the church’s effort to defend itself will still be felt. A good example of how liberals are trying to brand the church’s defenders as “partisans” when the opposite is true, came in the editorial in Sunday’s New York Times that branded the lawsuit launched by church institutions as a “stunt.”

The Times argues that the government’s attempt to compel the church to violate its principles was not a violation of its rights and further claims the inadequate “compromise” proposed by the White House should have silenced their concerns. This is an absurd distortion of the facts, but far worse is the way the Times — following the Obama campaign’s playbook — tries to claim that Catholics seek to impose their beliefs on others. Quite the contrary, it is the government fiat that employees at Catholic institutions are provided with free contraception that is the imposition. The point here is not so much to advance the cause of women’s health — the justification advocates of the government’s position seek to use — but to demonize a faith group that has the temerity to stick up for its rights.

Religious freedom is not just the right to, as the Times puts it, “preach that contraception is sinful and rail against Mr. Obama for making it more readily available” (though in fact, the Church is not seeking to curtail the availability of contraception to the general public). It is also the right not to have its institutions forced to either pay for or facilitate the receipt of services that run contrary to its principles.

It bears repeating that one needn’t share the Vatican’s views on contraception to understand that a government dictat that would coerce churches to dispense it is a violation of their religious liberty. Nor would a so-called “compromise” that would maintain the imposition but shift its cost reduce the threat to freedom. But the fact, as the Times points out, that even most Catholics support contraception does not mean the church and those who agree with it should be stripped of their rights. Allowing their institutions to abstain from providing contraception coverage does not make the church a law unto itself or impose its views on others; it merely leaves them alone. Nor does the government’s obligation to advance a “compelling interest” grant it the latitude to violate those rights. Those who wish to receive free contraception don’t have to work for the church. The idea that a fanciful constitutional right to such services should trump religious freedom is the product of a mindset in which all freedoms can be annulled for the sake of some mythical and unproven greater good.

Far from the church behaving in a partisan manner by imposing the president’s fiat, it is simply standing up for itself against a government that is determined to squelch dissent on the administration’s unpopular signature legislative achievement. The Supreme Court will determine ObamaCare’s fate. But the determined campaign to silence the church and to delegitimize its attempt to defend its rights will resonate for some time.

Read Less

Are Catholics Standing Alone?

Last month, after the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops announced plans to promote a “Fortnight for Freedom” this summer that would focus on the defense of religious liberty, it was an open question as to whether they would wind up standing alone after the Obama administration sought to force their institutions to pay for insurance coverage for practices forbidden by their faith. Other faith groups may well decide it is dangerous for them to stand up for religious liberty because of the unpopularity of the church’s stand on contraception. In particular, Jewish organizations, normally so zealous in defense of individual rights and religious freedom, will be seen as bellwethers.

So far, the answer is at best mixed, with only those religious groups identified with a more conservative viewpoint such as the Rabbinical Council of America, the religious body associated with the Orthodox Union, backing the church’s stand while the far more influential Jewish Council on Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish Community Relations Councils across the country, backed Obama’s unsatisfactory compromise proposal rather than the church’s defense of its rights.

Read More

Last month, after the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops announced plans to promote a “Fortnight for Freedom” this summer that would focus on the defense of religious liberty, it was an open question as to whether they would wind up standing alone after the Obama administration sought to force their institutions to pay for insurance coverage for practices forbidden by their faith. Other faith groups may well decide it is dangerous for them to stand up for religious liberty because of the unpopularity of the church’s stand on contraception. In particular, Jewish organizations, normally so zealous in defense of individual rights and religious freedom, will be seen as bellwethers.

So far, the answer is at best mixed, with only those religious groups identified with a more conservative viewpoint such as the Rabbinical Council of America, the religious body associated with the Orthodox Union, backing the church’s stand while the far more influential Jewish Council on Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish Community Relations Councils across the country, backed Obama’s unsatisfactory compromise proposal rather than the church’s defense of its rights.

This week, as Alana noted yesterday, Roman Catholic dioceses, schools, social service agencies and other institutions filed lawsuits in 12 federal courts, challenging the Obama administration’s dictate that they provide coverage for contraception in their health insurance policies. If they were to protect their rights, they had no choice but to go to court. The challenge will be affected by the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision on the legality of ObamaCare, but if all or parts of that legislation are upheld, the plaintiffs will be asking the courts to uphold their rights under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which forces the government to provide a compelling reason to force believers to violate their faith.

The administration has sought to marginalize the church’s position by launching a political campaign aimed at portraying the Republicans as waging a war on women because of conservative support for the church’s position. That has enabled some to claim that backing for the church is a partisan stand against the president. But this is looking at the issue through the wrong end of the telescope. It is not the administration that sought by means of ObamaCare to compel church institutions to pay for contraception that started this unnecessary fight, nor the bishops who would be quite happy to stay out of the political line of fire.

Having framed the issue as one in which backing for the church is tantamount to voicing opposition to the president or as being opposed to contraception — something the vast majority of Americans, including most Catholics, support–the administration may think it can defend its stance with impunity. But it is important for groups that would under other circumstances not hesitate to defend religious institutions from government compulsion not to leave the church to face the might of the government alone.

One needn’t oppose the president’s re-election or endorse the Vatican’s stance on contraception in order to understand that a ruling against the church would grant the government nearly unlimited power to restrict religious freedom. In the weeks and months ahead as this issue continues to be debated, it is vital that more faith groups rally around the church and make it clear to the administration and the courts that when it comes to protecting First Amendment rights, the church does not stand alone.

Read Less

Catholics Shouldn’t Stand Alone in Religious Freedom Fight

All it took was an ill-advised quip from Rush Limbaugh to turn the national debate about ObamaCare from concerns about religious freedom to one about an imaginary Republican war on women. But the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops are trying to refocus Americans on the threats to their religious liberty with a “Fortnight for Freedom” program planned for July in which they hope to get people discussing the ways in which the government is seeking to infringe on their rights to worship. Though predictably liberals are branding this as an effort to help Republicans, this is exactly the sort of project in which all faiths ought to participate.

The manifesto issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is an important document that is neither partisan nor an attempt to inflame sentiments on divisive issues. Rather, it is a sensible alarm issued to arouse Catholics to the insidious manner various government orders and legislation has sought to abridge religious rights. Examples include draconian immigration laws that conservatives have promulgated in Alabama. But is inevitable that the lion’s share of attention will be given to their citation of the way President Obama’s signature health care bill will force Catholic institutions to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs as well as the way various municipalities have driven Catholic agencies out of adoption and foster care services because of its stand on same-sex couples. Though non-Catholics, as well as many Catholics, may not agree with the church’s beliefs, it is vital they stand in solidarity with its call for freedom.

Read More

All it took was an ill-advised quip from Rush Limbaugh to turn the national debate about ObamaCare from concerns about religious freedom to one about an imaginary Republican war on women. But the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops are trying to refocus Americans on the threats to their religious liberty with a “Fortnight for Freedom” program planned for July in which they hope to get people discussing the ways in which the government is seeking to infringe on their rights to worship. Though predictably liberals are branding this as an effort to help Republicans, this is exactly the sort of project in which all faiths ought to participate.

The manifesto issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is an important document that is neither partisan nor an attempt to inflame sentiments on divisive issues. Rather, it is a sensible alarm issued to arouse Catholics to the insidious manner various government orders and legislation has sought to abridge religious rights. Examples include draconian immigration laws that conservatives have promulgated in Alabama. But is inevitable that the lion’s share of attention will be given to their citation of the way President Obama’s signature health care bill will force Catholic institutions to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs as well as the way various municipalities have driven Catholic agencies out of adoption and foster care services because of its stand on same-sex couples. Though non-Catholics, as well as many Catholics, may not agree with the church’s beliefs, it is vital they stand in solidarity with its call for freedom.

The blather about a fictional war on women has distracted the nation from the fact that while no one is actually preventing anyone from obtaining birth control, having an abortion or infringing on the rights of gays these days, the rights of Catholics not to support activities that contradict their faith is under siege. The issue, as the bishops rightly put it, is not so much whether Catholics are allowed to gather in their churches or pray as they like at home but whether they and their institutions are to go on being permitted to participate in our national life.

The principle at stake here is one in which it is clear that if the government gives itself the right to impose practices that contradict religious principles in this manner, it will fundamentally alter what the bishops rightly call our “first, most precious liberty” of freedom of religion.

As unfortunate as this movement to infringe upon religious liberty is, what is most distressing is the way the church has been largely allowed to face these attacks on its own. It is no small irony that many Jews who are zealous in their reaction to anything that might be construed as a violation of the separation of church and state or to impose majority beliefs on adherents of minority faiths or no faith at all are standing aside in this fight or opposing the church.

Laws that seek to force Catholics to subsidize actions that contradict their beliefs are, as the manifesto says, “unjust” and ought to be opposed by all people of good faith. In this context, the greatest tragedy would be if the church were left isolated in this battle because Democrats and liberals fear that advocacy on this issue undermines President Obama’s re-election. Far from the church playing the partisan here, it is those on the other side of this debate who are defending the indefensible simply because not to do so involves the defeat of ObamaCare.

The bishops write, “To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other.” The same sentence applies to Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Mormons and any other group including atheists who should be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Catholics in defense of religious freedom.

Read Less

Will the Jews Defend Catholics?

Initially, after the HHS mandate for employers to provide birth control for its employees was announced, the religious right flank of the Jewish community, the Orthodox Union (OU), came out strongly against the decision.  In the New York Times, the executive director of public policy for the OU Nathan Diament explained:

Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary [says] religious entities that “serve the general public and employ people of different faiths” should not receive the same religious liberty protections as, for example, a church or a synagogue. Such reasoning is wrongheaded.

For many people of diverse faiths, religious observance is not to be confined to the sanctuary. For many, faith compels engagement with the broader world and service to our fellow man, especially those in need. To say the government will afford religious liberty only to the most insular of religious institutions but not to those that serve, or employ, people of other faiths is a troubling view of faith and what role it should play in America.

Read More

Initially, after the HHS mandate for employers to provide birth control for its employees was announced, the religious right flank of the Jewish community, the Orthodox Union (OU), came out strongly against the decision.  In the New York Times, the executive director of public policy for the OU Nathan Diament explained:

Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary [says] religious entities that “serve the general public and employ people of different faiths” should not receive the same religious liberty protections as, for example, a church or a synagogue. Such reasoning is wrongheaded.

For many people of diverse faiths, religious observance is not to be confined to the sanctuary. For many, faith compels engagement with the broader world and service to our fellow man, especially those in need. To say the government will afford religious liberty only to the most insular of religious institutions but not to those that serve, or employ, people of other faiths is a troubling view of faith and what role it should play in America.

If you read the statement closely, however, the OU appears to have more problem with Catholic groups’ non-classification as religious organizations verses the government’s mandate that they provide a service explicitly against their religion. After the president’s “compromise” (which Rep. Paul Ryan called merely an accounting trick) the OU changed its tune after meetings with the White House to craft the revisions, issuing a new press release stating it,

welcomed President Obama’s announcement that he is revising the regulation announced on January 20 by the Dept. of Health and Human Services in re: employers’ health insurance plans and religiously affiliated institutions.

The Orthodox Union criticized the previous regulation as being harmful to religious liberty and disturbingly defining religious entities that serve or employ people of other faith as undeserving of religious liberty protection.

Under the revised rule, no nonprofit, religious institutional employer that objects to providing contraceptives and sterilization services will have to pay for or provide coverage for it.

The left flank of the Jewish community, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC),  also released a statement supporting the president’s “compromise,” and never released a statement on its position when the controversy first erupted. The director of the RAC, Rabbi David Saperstein, has a strong relationship with the Obama White House and personally consulted on the mandate throughout the process.

The Catholic Church is not fooled by the president’s “compromise” which requires insurance companies to provide the birth control verses the employers themselves. Under the “compromise,” the Catholic Church and its affiliates will still be paying the insurance company premiums and from those premiums Catholic employees will receive birth control from their employer-provided insurance. Today, LifeNews reported that every Catholic bishop in the United States opposes the mandate and yesterday, as Jonathan mentioned, Bishop William E. Lori spoke on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops against the mandate at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

At the hearing, Bishop Lori compared the Church’s requirement to provide birth control to a kosher deli’s requirement to serve pork. Jonathan quoted the statement in full, and his post is a must-read. Many have scoffed at the comparison, and a more apt one may have been, “What if the government decides to outlaw the ‘barbaric’ practice of circumcision?” Unfortunately, it’s a comparison that may hit too close to home for many Jews (and Muslims), especially residents of San Francisco. Last year, the city came frighteningly close to outlawing a basic ritual central to both Abrahamic faiths. When that occurred the (notoriously left-wing) Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco released a statement opposing the circumcision ban, calling it “an unconscionable violation of the sanctuaries of faith and family.” The Catholic Church understood this attack on Jewish and Muslim religious liberty could be followed by an attack on theirs, and unfortunately, they were proven right.

While this fight about birth control may not be a Jewish issue, it is an issue of religious liberty. The Jewish community in San Francisco almost saw an infringement of its First Amendment rights passed into law last year, and its co-religionists spoke out for the sake of every religion’s right to practice freely. Now that this mandate is about to be enacted against every practicing Catholic in the United States, why won’t their Jewish co-religionists take the same stand?

Read Less

Ham Sandwiches and Religious Freedom

Yesterday, many on the left had a hearty laugh about the statement by Bishop William E. Lori on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about the administration’s effort to force the church to violate its principles by paying for insurance coverage for practices it opposes. The left-wing site Talking Points Memo in particular thought it was ludicrous for Bishop Lori to claim a government mandate that Catholic institutions pay for contraception is akin to one that would force Jewish delis to serve pork. To the left, the analogy is ludicrous, because getting free birth control from your employer is, they believe, a constitutional right, and a ham sandwich is merely a whim.

But Lori was absolutely right. The attempt by the president to force all employers, even those whose religious convictions forbid them from doing so, to provide insurance coverage for contraception is no different than a hypothetical law that would require all places that serve food to include non-kosher items on the menu.

Read More

Yesterday, many on the left had a hearty laugh about the statement by Bishop William E. Lori on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about the administration’s effort to force the church to violate its principles by paying for insurance coverage for practices it opposes. The left-wing site Talking Points Memo in particular thought it was ludicrous for Bishop Lori to claim a government mandate that Catholic institutions pay for contraception is akin to one that would force Jewish delis to serve pork. To the left, the analogy is ludicrous, because getting free birth control from your employer is, they believe, a constitutional right, and a ham sandwich is merely a whim.

But Lori was absolutely right. The attempt by the president to force all employers, even those whose religious convictions forbid them from doing so, to provide insurance coverage for contraception is no different than a hypothetical law that would require all places that serve food to include non-kosher items on the menu.

As Lori said, the fact that many Jews eat pork does not undermine the right of kosher restaurants to exclude it from the menu. Nor should it obligate them to provide ham or shrimp or cheeseburgers to their non-Jewish employees for lunch. Rather than their refusal to do so being a case of observant Jews “imposing their beliefs” on others, a law that sought to force such restaurants to alter their fare to conform with a government dictat would allow the state to use its power of coercion to run roughshod over the religious beliefs of its citizens.

Lori went even further and analogized the president’s “compromise” on contraception by saying it was no different than if the state allowed the kosher delis to not put pork on its menu and to have its employees serve ham sandwiches but forced them to allow pork distributors to set up kiosks on the premises where free ham sanchwiches would be served, the cost for which would be born by the kosher deli owners.

If the analogy sounds ludicrous it is only because there is no national meal plan to feed Americans in the way that Obamacare has nationalized health insurance. But, as Lori points out, there isn’t any more need for anyone who works at a Catholic institution to get birth control from the church than there is for a pork-craving customer to get ham from a kosher deli. In both cases, there is nothing preventing either person from working someplace else or just going down the block to get the item they want from somewhere else. The attack on the church demonstrates not only the contempt of this administration for religious freedom but the threat that its signature health care bill poses to constitutional liberty.

The impulse to impose these regulations on the church has no more to do with the correctness of the Vatican’s ruling on contraception than the validity of kashrut. Both are religious beliefs that must be respected if we are serious about protecting religious freedom in this republic. Such freedom either exists for all or for none.

Bishop Lori’s statement deserves to be read in full:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee, for the opportunity to testify today. For my testimony today, I would like to tell a story. Let’s call it, “The Parable of the Kosher Deli.”

Once upon a time, a new law is proposed, so that any business that serves food must serve pork. There is a narrow exception for kosher catering halls attached to synagogues, since they serve mostly members of that synagogue, but kosher delicatessens are still subject to the mandate.

The Orthodox Jewish community—whose members run kosher delis and many other restaurants and grocers besides—expresses its outrage at the new government mandate. And they are joined by others who have no problem eating pork—not just the many Jews who eat pork, but people of all faiths—because these others recognize the threat to the principle of religious liberty. They recognize as well the practical impact of the damage to that principle. They know that, if the mandate stands, they might be the next ones forced—under threat of severe government sanction—to violate their most deeply held beliefs, especially their unpopular beliefs.

Meanwhile, those who support the mandate respond, “But pork is good for you. It is, after all, the other white meat.” Other supporters add, “So many Jews eat pork, and those who don’t should just get with the times.” Still others say, “Those Orthodox are just trying to impose their beliefs on everyone else.”

But in our hypothetical, those arguments fail in the public debate, because people widely recognize the following.

First, although people may reasonably debate whether pork is good for you, that’s not the question posed by the nationwide pork mandate. Instead, the mandate generates the question whether people, who believe—even if they believe in error—that pork is not good for you, should be forced by government to serve pork within their very own institutions. In a nation committed to religious liberty and diversity, the answer, of course, is no.

Second, the fact that some (or even most) Jews eat pork is simply irrelevant. The fact remains that some Jews do not—and they do not out of their most deeply held religious convictions. Does the fact that large majorities in society—even large majorities within the protesting religious community—reject a particular religious belief make it permissible for the government to weigh in on one side of that dispute? Does it allow government to punish that minority belief with its coercive power? In a nation committed to religious liberty and diversity, the answer, of course, is no.

Third, the charge that the Orthodox Jews are imposing their beliefs on others has it exactly backwards. Again, the question generated by a government mandate is whether the government will impose its belief that eating pork is good on objecting Orthodox Jews. Meanwhile, there is no imposition at all on the freedom of those who want to eat pork. That is, they are subject to no government interference at all in their choice to eat pork, and pork is ubiquitous and cheap, available at the overwhelming majority of restaurants and grocers. Indeed, some pork producers and retailers, and even the government itself, are so eager to promote the eating of pork, that they sometimes give pork away for free.

In this context, the question is this: can a customer come to a kosher deli, demand to be served a ham sandwich, and if refused, bring down severe government sanction on the deli? In a nation committed to religious liberty and diversity, the answer, of course, is no.

So in our hypothetical story, because the hypothetical nation is indeed committed to religious liberty and diversity, these arguments carry the day.

In response, those proposing the new law claim to hear and understand the concerns of kosher deli owners, and offer them a new “accommodation.” You are free to call yourself a kosher deli; you are free not to place ham sandwiches on your menu; you are free not to be the person to prepare the sandwich and hand it over the counter to the customer. But we will force your meat supplier to set up a kiosk on your premises, and to offer, prepare, and serve ham sandwiches to all of your customers, free of charge to them. And when you get your monthly bill from your meat supplier, it will include the cost of any of the “free” ham sandwiches that your customers may accept. And you will, of course, be required to pay that bill.

Some who supported the deli owners initially began to celebrate the fact that ham sandwiches didn’t need to be on the menu, and didn’t need to be prepared or served by the deli itself. But on closer examination, they noticed three troubling things.

First, all kosher delis will still be forced to pay for the ham sandwiches. Second, many of the kosher delis’ meat suppliers, themselves, are forbidden in conscience from offering, preparing, or serving pork to anyone. Third, there are many kosher delis that are their own meat supplier, so the mandate to offer, prepare, and serve the ham sandwich still falls on them.

This story has a happy ending. The government recognized that it is absurd for someone to come into a kosher deli and demand a ham sandwich; that it is beyond absurd for that private demand to be backed with the coercive power of the state; that it is downright surreal to apply this coercive power when the customer can get the same sandwich cheaply, or even free, just a few doors down.

The question before the United States government—right now—is whether the story of our own Church institutions that serve the public, and that are threatened by the HHS mandate, will end happily too. Will our nation continue to be one committed to religious liberty and diversity? We urge, in the strongest possible terms, that the answer must be yes. We urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to answer the same way.

Read Less

The President’s “Accommodation”

Why is it that economic laws are the Rodney Dangerfield of natural laws? Like the late comedian, they get no respect.

No one wanting to live would jump off a ten-story building. Why? Because everyone knows gravity will–like it or not–accelerate them towards the ground at 32 feet per second per second and the resulting impact will kill them.

And everyone knows the economic law encapsulated in Milton Friedman’s famous dictum, “There is no free lunch.”

Read More

Why is it that economic laws are the Rodney Dangerfield of natural laws? Like the late comedian, they get no respect.

No one wanting to live would jump off a ten-story building. Why? Because everyone knows gravity will–like it or not–accelerate them towards the ground at 32 feet per second per second and the resulting impact will kill them.

And everyone knows the economic law encapsulated in Milton Friedman’s famous dictum, “There is no free lunch.”

And yet on Friday afternoon, the president of the United States (B.A., Columbia, J.D., Harvard) declared Friedman’s dictum null and void. He ordered insurance companies covering institutions run by organizations morally opposed to contraception to provide it for free to the employees of those institutions who want it.

But birth control pills cost money to develop, manufacture, package and distribute. Doctors must prescribe what are, after all, powerful drugs. Doctors, drug companies and pharmacists expect to be paid. So if the insurance companies are going to pay them, where does the money come from?

Thin air, says the president of the United States. Higher premiums, say everyone who lives beyond the Beltway. And who would pay the higher premiums? Well, partly the institutions who object to birth control and partly other institutional customers of the same insurance company who don’t. If the institution self-insures, however, as most large organizations do, then it will still indeed be paying for a product to which it morally objects.

In other words, the birth control won’t be free, it will cost just as much as it ever did. It’s just that paying for it will, sometimes, be partly shifted away from those who are making a political ruckus and partly toward innocent bystanders.

I’m delighted to see the Catholic bishops weren’t fooled by the White House sleight-of-hand, unlike almost all of the Washington press corps. I suspect this story still has a lot of legs, and not only because the bishops aren’t buying. It also lays bare the dark heart of Obamacare, with its massive shift of power–economic, medical, and, now, moral–to Washington. And his “accommodation” to the moral scruples of the Catholic Church raises troubling constitutional issues as well.

From where, exactly, does the president derive the power to order a company to provide something of value for “free”? If he has that power, perhaps he might be so kind as to tell Subaru to provide me with a new Outback. The one I have, much as I love it, is getting a little old.

 

Read Less

The Damage From Obama’s Attack on the Church Can’t Be Walked Back

As expected, the news has filtered out that the Obama administration’s attempt to force Catholic institutions to pay for contraception for their employees despite the teachings of the church is about to be rescinded in a “compromise” which the White House hopes will allow it to save face. After a political firestorm that threatened to engulf his re-election efforts, President Obama seems to have bowed to the inevitable and retreated. The growing consensus across the country that his policy was both an attack on religious freedom and an indication of the messy complications that will ensue from the implementation of Obamacare dictated no other course but retreat.

This will disappoint a liberal base that was delighted at the Democrats’ decision to try to force the church to its knees on a principle where the Vatican’s stand runs counter to the opinions of most people, not to mention the practices of most Catholics. But though it is the height of wisdom to give up on a course that was as foolhardy as this, the president shouldn’t think he will not suffer the consequences of having put forward this ill-considered plan. Even after the initiative is withdrawn or watered down, the damage from this episode cannot be undone. He has not only offended Catholics but in attempting to ram this measure down the throat of the church, he has also reminded the country that his signature health care legislation involves a tyrannical expansion of government power.

Read More

As expected, the news has filtered out that the Obama administration’s attempt to force Catholic institutions to pay for contraception for their employees despite the teachings of the church is about to be rescinded in a “compromise” which the White House hopes will allow it to save face. After a political firestorm that threatened to engulf his re-election efforts, President Obama seems to have bowed to the inevitable and retreated. The growing consensus across the country that his policy was both an attack on religious freedom and an indication of the messy complications that will ensue from the implementation of Obamacare dictated no other course but retreat.

This will disappoint a liberal base that was delighted at the Democrats’ decision to try to force the church to its knees on a principle where the Vatican’s stand runs counter to the opinions of most people, not to mention the practices of most Catholics. But though it is the height of wisdom to give up on a course that was as foolhardy as this, the president shouldn’t think he will not suffer the consequences of having put forward this ill-considered plan. Even after the initiative is withdrawn or watered down, the damage from this episode cannot be undone. He has not only offended Catholics but in attempting to ram this measure down the throat of the church, he has also reminded the country that his signature health care legislation involves a tyrannical expansion of government power.

The president may have thought this was just a matter of pleasing the left on an issue where few agreed with the church. Indeed, the ban on contraception is one on which the Vatican has few supporters even among the Catholic faithful. But most Americans instinctively understood that no matter what they thought of the merits of contraception bans, government ought not to demand that religious institutions subsidize practices they oppose as a matter of conscience. Government interference in internal church matters in this way is unacceptable, and Obama soon learned his attack on Catholics isolated him just as much as the Pope’s stand on birth control.

But far worse than that is the fact that the whole business is a function of government health care mandates. In a single stroke Obama managed to highlight the least popular measure of his administration and did so in a manner that reinforced all the criticisms that had been made of it. And by giving up so quickly, the president has also confirmed his base’s worst fears about his weak leadership style.

Though he may retract the contraception dictat today, by opening up this can of worms, he has done his administration and his hopes for re-election great harm. His assault on religious freedom has energized social conservatives and Republicans. But it has also given wavering Democrats and independents one more reason to be wary about handing Obama a second term.

Read Less

Obama’s Attack on Religious Liberty

The Obama administration’s decision to require Catholic hospitals, charities and universities to provide insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and abortifacients — in violation of their conscience and creed — is among the most offensive and troubling of the Obama era. And that is not an easy designation to achieve.

Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan said, “The federal government should do what it’s traditionally done since July 4, 1776, namely back out of intruding into the internal life of a church.” Bishops are writing letters to their congregants saying, “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.” Presidents of Catholic universities insist they will reject “this religious intolerance and will not bow down before government regulations that are manifestly unjust.” The National Association of Evangelicals put out a statement saying, “Freedom of conscience is a sacred gift from God, not a grant from the state. No government has the right to compel its citizens to violate their conscience. The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent.””

Read More

The Obama administration’s decision to require Catholic hospitals, charities and universities to provide insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and abortifacients — in violation of their conscience and creed — is among the most offensive and troubling of the Obama era. And that is not an easy designation to achieve.

Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan said, “The federal government should do what it’s traditionally done since July 4, 1776, namely back out of intruding into the internal life of a church.” Bishops are writing letters to their congregants saying, “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.” Presidents of Catholic universities insist they will reject “this religious intolerance and will not bow down before government regulations that are manifestly unjust.” The National Association of Evangelicals put out a statement saying, “Freedom of conscience is a sacred gift from God, not a grant from the state. No government has the right to compel its citizens to violate their conscience. The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent.””

This issue is about to go super-nova. According to Politico, “A handful of high-profile Catholic Democrats are bailing on the president and joining the GOP chorus of critics… They include two swing-state pols on the November ballot… Obama’s former DNC chairman, Tim Kaine, who’s running for Senate in Virginia, and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey — as well as House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson.” Freshman Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who’s up for reelection this year, called the Obama edict “un-American” and a “direct affront to the religious freedoms protected under the First Amendment.””

For the White House to engage in what Michael Gerson of the Washington Post calls “the most aggressive attack on the liberty of religious institutions since the 19th century” is a staggeringly stupid political act. Some people offer a fairly benign interpretation of the Obama administration’s motives, calling them technocrats. Perhaps. But I think a stronger case can be made that this act — which is so aggressive, so indefensible, and so at odds with the American creed — is a window into the mind and soul of America’s 44th president.

Not that many years ago, then-Senator Obama gave a speech in which he said, “Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square.” President Obama has done the secularists one better. He’s asking believers to leave their religion at the door before entering religious hospitals, charities, and universities. Believers across the land are rising up to say to Obama, in the most respectful way possible, “Get lost.”

 

Read Less

Weak Obama May Back Off Church Attack

President Obama may have gotten more than he bargained for last week when he issued his edict that would force Catholic religious institutions to purchase contraception insurance for their employees in spite of the fact that the church is opposed on principle to their use. The issue has become a rallying cry for Catholics of all political affiliations as they have denounced Obama’s effort to abridge their religious freedom. It has also given the Republican campaign to repeal Obamacare new impetus, as the regulations are a function of the national health plan imposed by the president.

So it was probably only to be expected that Obama’s chief campaign adviser David Axelrod signaled this morning in an interview that Democrats are trying to find a way to come back in off the ledge onto which the president has crawled with this ill-advised ruling. Axelrod went on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program today and said the White House is attempting to find a compromise that would walk back the attack on the church while still enforcing a right to contraception coverage. Given the way the issue had become a major talking point for Republican presidential candidates, especially for a strong social conservative like the surging Rick Santorum, Obama would do well to dispense with the attempt at compromise and simply retract the regulation before it does him any more harm.

Read More

President Obama may have gotten more than he bargained for last week when he issued his edict that would force Catholic religious institutions to purchase contraception insurance for their employees in spite of the fact that the church is opposed on principle to their use. The issue has become a rallying cry for Catholics of all political affiliations as they have denounced Obama’s effort to abridge their religious freedom. It has also given the Republican campaign to repeal Obamacare new impetus, as the regulations are a function of the national health plan imposed by the president.

So it was probably only to be expected that Obama’s chief campaign adviser David Axelrod signaled this morning in an interview that Democrats are trying to find a way to come back in off the ledge onto which the president has crawled with this ill-advised ruling. Axelrod went on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program today and said the White House is attempting to find a compromise that would walk back the attack on the church while still enforcing a right to contraception coverage. Given the way the issue had become a major talking point for Republican presidential candidates, especially for a strong social conservative like the surging Rick Santorum, Obama would do well to dispense with the attempt at compromise and simply retract the regulation before it does him any more harm.

Given how strongly Obama’s base feels about the issue, that won’t be easy. One of the prime motivations for liberal support for the contraception mandate is that it enables the government to put the Catholic Church in its place. Making the church bend to the will of its secular critics is part of the attraction of the issue for liberals. A presidential retreat on the point is inevitalbe, now that Obama realizes there will be a heavy political cost to be paid. The White House may also realize the longer this issue stays on the front-burner the more it will endanger the president’s signature health care legislation from which it emanates. Whatever his instincts about the issue, the president simply hasn’t the stomach for a knock-down, drag-out battle to diminish religious freedom.

This episode is the Obama administration in capsule form. The problem arose from a knee-jerk ideological mandate that was imposed regardless of principle or the political cost. But once the president was called to account, his instinct was to back down. This pattern has been repeated many times in the last few years and has served to infuriate conservatives and disillusion liberals. While an administration walk back of this blunder is to be encouraged, Obama’s lack of leadership and weakness must be recognized for what it is: a formula for a one-term presidency.

Read Less

Liberals and Obama’s War on the Church

For many liberals these days, defining religious liberty is more a matter of circumstance and fashion than principle. Thus, when a plan was put forward to build a Muslim community center and mosque in the shadow of New York’s Ground Zero, the mere expression of concern such a decision was insensitive to the victims and families of the 9/11 attacks was taken as a sign that opponents of the project sought to repeal the First Amendment. The right of prisoners to practice their faiths is often allowed to trump other concerns. The Supreme Court has made it imperative the government must have a compelling reason to impinge in any way on the right of believers to observe religious rights and customs. But this belief in the value of diversity only goes so far. Thus, when President Obama chooses to force Catholic institutions to pay for services for their employees that the principles of the Church forbid, the government’s abrogation of their religious freedom was seen by many of the same liberal commentators who applauded the ground zero mosque as being of no consequence.

That’s the conundrum the president’s anti-Catholic fiat exposed, and the reaction to it from much of our chattering classes is hardly encouraging for those who worry about the government’s willingness to trample on the rights of believers. One needn’t agree with the Vatican’s stand on contraception to understand that if the law regards the government health care agenda as being more sacred than the rights of Catholics not to be forced to subsidize practices they abhor, then the principle of religious liberty in our country truly is in danger.

Read More

For many liberals these days, defining religious liberty is more a matter of circumstance and fashion than principle. Thus, when a plan was put forward to build a Muslim community center and mosque in the shadow of New York’s Ground Zero, the mere expression of concern such a decision was insensitive to the victims and families of the 9/11 attacks was taken as a sign that opponents of the project sought to repeal the First Amendment. The right of prisoners to practice their faiths is often allowed to trump other concerns. The Supreme Court has made it imperative the government must have a compelling reason to impinge in any way on the right of believers to observe religious rights and customs. But this belief in the value of diversity only goes so far. Thus, when President Obama chooses to force Catholic institutions to pay for services for their employees that the principles of the Church forbid, the government’s abrogation of their religious freedom was seen by many of the same liberal commentators who applauded the ground zero mosque as being of no consequence.

That’s the conundrum the president’s anti-Catholic fiat exposed, and the reaction to it from much of our chattering classes is hardly encouraging for those who worry about the government’s willingness to trample on the rights of believers. One needn’t agree with the Vatican’s stand on contraception to understand that if the law regards the government health care agenda as being more sacred than the rights of Catholics not to be forced to subsidize practices they abhor, then the principle of religious liberty in our country truly is in danger.

That’s a conclusion many in our chattering classes refuse to accept. In noting the comments of Republican presidential candidates on the issue in an editorial today, the New York Times put the words “religious liberty” in quotes as if the mere notion that the church’s rights were imperiled was something of a joke.

The reason for this is no secret. For liberal secularists, church teachings about contraception are antiquated and contrary to the progressive spirit of the age. If the church thinks condoms and morning-after pills are wrong, then so much the worse for it. Their beliefs are to be suppressed largely because they are seen as wrong and therefore not worthy of protection let alone tolerance. The triumphal tone of many Church critics betrays a sense that a faith hierarchy that is seen as conservative and/or patriarchal is being put in its place.

Supporters of the president have tried to portray his decision as being made in defense of workers who are being deprived of essential health coverage. But this is a subterfuge. Health care plans vary. Anyone who views birth control benefits as necessary to their terms of employment need not work for a church institution. But the point of this measure is about a political agenda in which free contraception becomes a universal right, not the particular needs of individuals.

While liberals scoff at the idea Obama is waging a war on Catholics, there is little doubt the government’s refusal to accommodate the Church represents a clear choice about the legitimacy of its beliefs. As Politico notes in its analysis today, this may come back to haunt Obama in November as white working-class Catholics who voted for him in 2008 abandon his cause in 2012. But the more important point to be made here is if Catholic rights can be trampled in this fashion, so can those of other faiths even if their liberal adherents think they are untouched by this controversy. Religious liberty either exists for all or for none.

Read Less

A Rabbi Breaks Ranks

Here’s an Israel story everyone should keep tabs on. For the first time that I can recall, an ultra-Orthodox member of the Knesset has openly defied the authority of his party’s spiritual leaders. This comes after Rabbi Haim Amsalem of Shas spoke out against the lifestyle of married yeshiva students who prefer to study Torah and live off handouts rather than get a job — in other words, against the central ideal that defines ultra-Orthodoxy in Israel today. Over the weekend, his party’s official newspaper ran a series of articles slamming him, and now the party leadership, its four-man Council of Torah Sages headed by Shas’s spiritual leader, former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has called on him to quit, adding that if he does not, he’ll be little more than a “thief in the night.” One Shas commentator likened him to Amalek, the Ur-enemy of the Jews, whose memory is, according to the Bible, to be “wiped out.”

Amsalem, however, is sticking to his guns. Calling the handouts “shameful,” he has refused to give up his Knesset post, arguing (probably correctly) that his views reflect those of the great majority of Shas voters.

Why is this story so important? First, because Amsalem is giving voice to an increasingly discontented voter base for Shas — an electorate that walks a thin line between embracing Rabbi Yosef and his defense of Sephardic Judaism while living a lifestyle that, for the most part, is traditional rather than ultra-Orthodox, which means that they work for a living and don’t necessarily buy into the Ashkenazic-invented ideal of Torah study as a full-time job. For the first time, they have a rabbi that speaks his mind for the things they actually believe in.

Second, because here we have the most vivid example of the clash between democracy and religious authority. As a duly elected member of parliament, Amsalem has every legal right to keep his post. Yet the Orthodox parties in Israel have always been run according to a model in which their representatives in parliament accept party discipline not just as a political duty but as a religious one as well. Amsalem’s fate will tell us a lot about whether democracy or religion has supremacy in the Jewish state.

Third, because Amsalem has raised a powerful challenge to the very idea of rabbinic authority. Over the centuries, rabbis have claimed a moral right to tell their flocks what to do, on the grounds that their extensive study gives them the requisite expertise in the religious law. The dirty little secret, however, is that there is no formal hierarchical establishment in Judaism akin to what exists in the Catholic Church. In practice, rabbis have authority only over whoever chooses to follow them. The result is that rabbis who don’t take seriously the underlying values of their followers end up having no one to lead. Beneath the veneer of top-down authority, rabbinic politics has always been far more democratic than most rabbis would admit.

If Shas’s rabbis are reacting wildly to Amsalem’s challenge, it’s because they perceive a real threat to their hold on power. But as the Jerusalem Post‘s Jeff Barak points out, Amsalem is giving a rare, clear voice to what a great many of Shas’s own voters already believe. How this plays out could well determine the future of the Shas party, the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate as a whole, and a certain slice of democratic life in Israel as well.

Here’s an Israel story everyone should keep tabs on. For the first time that I can recall, an ultra-Orthodox member of the Knesset has openly defied the authority of his party’s spiritual leaders. This comes after Rabbi Haim Amsalem of Shas spoke out against the lifestyle of married yeshiva students who prefer to study Torah and live off handouts rather than get a job — in other words, against the central ideal that defines ultra-Orthodoxy in Israel today. Over the weekend, his party’s official newspaper ran a series of articles slamming him, and now the party leadership, its four-man Council of Torah Sages headed by Shas’s spiritual leader, former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has called on him to quit, adding that if he does not, he’ll be little more than a “thief in the night.” One Shas commentator likened him to Amalek, the Ur-enemy of the Jews, whose memory is, according to the Bible, to be “wiped out.”

Amsalem, however, is sticking to his guns. Calling the handouts “shameful,” he has refused to give up his Knesset post, arguing (probably correctly) that his views reflect those of the great majority of Shas voters.

Why is this story so important? First, because Amsalem is giving voice to an increasingly discontented voter base for Shas — an electorate that walks a thin line between embracing Rabbi Yosef and his defense of Sephardic Judaism while living a lifestyle that, for the most part, is traditional rather than ultra-Orthodox, which means that they work for a living and don’t necessarily buy into the Ashkenazic-invented ideal of Torah study as a full-time job. For the first time, they have a rabbi that speaks his mind for the things they actually believe in.

Second, because here we have the most vivid example of the clash between democracy and religious authority. As a duly elected member of parliament, Amsalem has every legal right to keep his post. Yet the Orthodox parties in Israel have always been run according to a model in which their representatives in parliament accept party discipline not just as a political duty but as a religious one as well. Amsalem’s fate will tell us a lot about whether democracy or religion has supremacy in the Jewish state.

Third, because Amsalem has raised a powerful challenge to the very idea of rabbinic authority. Over the centuries, rabbis have claimed a moral right to tell their flocks what to do, on the grounds that their extensive study gives them the requisite expertise in the religious law. The dirty little secret, however, is that there is no formal hierarchical establishment in Judaism akin to what exists in the Catholic Church. In practice, rabbis have authority only over whoever chooses to follow them. The result is that rabbis who don’t take seriously the underlying values of their followers end up having no one to lead. Beneath the veneer of top-down authority, rabbinic politics has always been far more democratic than most rabbis would admit.

If Shas’s rabbis are reacting wildly to Amsalem’s challenge, it’s because they perceive a real threat to their hold on power. But as the Jerusalem Post‘s Jeff Barak points out, Amsalem is giving a rare, clear voice to what a great many of Shas’s own voters already believe. How this plays out could well determine the future of the Shas party, the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate as a whole, and a certain slice of democratic life in Israel as well.

Read Less

Bill O’Reilly Isn’t a Bigot. But He Is Wrong.

Bill O’Reilly appeared on The View yesterday, and the conversation turned to the effort to build a mosque near Ground Zero. In the course of the discussion, O’Reilly, who opposes building the mosque at this location, pointed out that 70 percent of the public (68 percent according to a CNN/Opinion Research poll) sides with him on this matter. When pressed as to why that’s the case, O’Reilly said, “Because Muslims killed us on 9/11!” This turned an acrimonious debate into an explosive one, with co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walking off the set.

The whole thing was something of an embarrassment for everyone involved. Perhaps predictably, though, Mr. O’Reilly devoted much of his show, The O’Reilly Factor, to this issue (see here and here). O’Reilly’s basic argument is that everyone knows, or should know, that he’s not an anti-Muslim bigot. Rather, he sees himself as an intrepid truth-teller (“I tell it like it is” and “I’m not in the business of sugar-coating harsh realities”). Everyone by now knows the distinction between radical Muslims and moderate Muslims, O’Reilly argues, so the distinction is unnecessary. Those who are criticizing him are part of the PC police. And it’s commonplace to say that the Japanese attacked us in World War II, so why shouldn’t we say Muslims attacked us on 9/11? Read More

Bill O’Reilly appeared on The View yesterday, and the conversation turned to the effort to build a mosque near Ground Zero. In the course of the discussion, O’Reilly, who opposes building the mosque at this location, pointed out that 70 percent of the public (68 percent according to a CNN/Opinion Research poll) sides with him on this matter. When pressed as to why that’s the case, O’Reilly said, “Because Muslims killed us on 9/11!” This turned an acrimonious debate into an explosive one, with co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walking off the set.

The whole thing was something of an embarrassment for everyone involved. Perhaps predictably, though, Mr. O’Reilly devoted much of his show, The O’Reilly Factor, to this issue (see here and here). O’Reilly’s basic argument is that everyone knows, or should know, that he’s not an anti-Muslim bigot. Rather, he sees himself as an intrepid truth-teller (“I tell it like it is” and “I’m not in the business of sugar-coating harsh realities”). Everyone by now knows the distinction between radical Muslims and moderate Muslims, O’Reilly argues, so the distinction is unnecessary. Those who are criticizing him are part of the PC police. And it’s commonplace to say that the Japanese attacked us in World War II, so why shouldn’t we say Muslims attacked us on 9/11?

I happen to agree with O’Reilly on the mosque/Ground Zero issue. But his analogy is flawed. With Japan, we were dealing with a nation-state; with al-Qaeda, we are dealing with a small percentage of militants in a faith that includes more than 1.5 billion people in more than 200 countries.

Moreover, O’Reilly’s claim is unfair – and O’Reilly should understand why. Here’s an illustration that might help clarify things. Assume that Sam Harris went on The O’Reilly Factor and, based on the child-abuse scandals that tarnished the reputation of the Catholic Church, made the sweeping claim that “Catholics are child molesters.” My guess is that O’Reilly would (rightly) respond, “No. Some priests molested children, and it was a horrific thing. But you can’t indict an entire faith based on the sins of a relatively few number of priests.”

We shouldn’t kid ourselves; there is a not-insignificant strand of people in the Muslim world who align themselves with the ideology of al-Qaeda – and an even larger number who more or less accept its narrative of history. The condemnations by more moderate Muslims against its militant strand could certainly be more muscular. At the same time, the militant Islamists who attacked us on 9/11 don’t represent the vast majority of Muslims in the world – and certainly not the views of most Muslim Americans.

I understand that in the midst of a passionate debate on television, you can say things in imprecise and offensive ways; we have to leave some room for that to happen in our public discourse. We’re all fallible, and we all, from time to time, say things we wish we could take back. Words that wound shouldn’t necessarily be a hanging offense. Still, I do wish that, on reflection, Mr. O’Reilly, rather than defending his comments, had simply said that in thinking over his statement, he made a mistake. His comment was far too sweeping. It was, in fact, an unfair indictment against all Muslims. And the distinction between radical Islamists and the wider Muslim world (including, of course, Muslim Americans) is important to maintain.

The offense most people might take to what O’Reilly said isn’t based on political correctness, I don’t think; it is based on a deep understanding of what it means to hold and to share the title American citizen. To be an American means, at least in part, to avoid creating unnecessary divisions over matters of faith. This view was central to America’s founding. Comity, tolerance, and respect for people who hold views different from your own is a sign of civility, not weakness.

In his letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, President Washington wrote these beautiful words:

May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

I certainly don’t think Bill O’Reilly is a bigot. But I do believe that, in this instance, what he said was wrong. He should say so.

Read Less

Inclusive Israel Gets No Credit

Earlier today, I remarked that the left is unmoved by Israel’s protection of the rights of gays and women. It’s not simply that Israel isn’t hanging gays as they do in Iran, or that it doesn’t permit six-year-old girls to be married off; no, it’s a modern, inclusive democracy — a fact that seems to escape its critics’ notice (especially those on the UN Human Rights Council, whose treatment of women and gays is atrocious). Likewise, the media, even in the face of abundant evidence, is slow to credit Israel for human-rights policies and a nondiscriminatory legal system vastly superior to those of its neighbors.

A case in point: “Israel’s Supreme Court has ordered the Jerusalem city government to provide more than $120,000 in funding for a prominent gay community center.” The report spins it this way, however: “Thursday’s ruling was the latest sign that a hostile climate toward Jerusalem’s gay community may be abating.” Well, other signs would be that gay Palestinians have fled there. (“According to some estimates, there are now 300 gay Palestinian men secretly living and working in Israel. Their willingness to live there — despite the risk of being detained and deported as a security threat — is due to Palestinian attitudes toward gay men, they claim.”) In April this year, Israel took flack from the Catholic Church for allowing a gay-pride parade in Jerusalem. And then there is this:

The right to be openly gay has been acknowledged in the Israeli military since 1993, and there is little evidence that policy has caused any problems. Even beyond the army, Israeli law is generally progressive on issues of sexual orientation. Even though marriage is controlled by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinic establishment, Israeli authorities recognize same-sex marriages performed abroad, and same-sex partners receive the same economic benefits as married couples.

“Out” magazine has named Tel Aviv the gay capital of the Middle East in acknowledgment of its thriving gay culture.

Military expert Levy said the editor of the primary army newspaper, Bamachane, is openly gay. He estimates the percentage of gay soldiers at 10 percent in general and somewhat less in field units.

Former soldier [Eli] Kaplan said certain intelligence and naval units were known for having a large proportion of gay soldiers.

So there have been plenty of “signs” of Israel’s tolerance and acceptance of gays, despite the AP’s obtuseness. And no, the left in America and the elites of the “international community” don’t give a darn about any of that. Why? Because it’s the Jewish state and the rules are different.

Earlier today, I remarked that the left is unmoved by Israel’s protection of the rights of gays and women. It’s not simply that Israel isn’t hanging gays as they do in Iran, or that it doesn’t permit six-year-old girls to be married off; no, it’s a modern, inclusive democracy — a fact that seems to escape its critics’ notice (especially those on the UN Human Rights Council, whose treatment of women and gays is atrocious). Likewise, the media, even in the face of abundant evidence, is slow to credit Israel for human-rights policies and a nondiscriminatory legal system vastly superior to those of its neighbors.

A case in point: “Israel’s Supreme Court has ordered the Jerusalem city government to provide more than $120,000 in funding for a prominent gay community center.” The report spins it this way, however: “Thursday’s ruling was the latest sign that a hostile climate toward Jerusalem’s gay community may be abating.” Well, other signs would be that gay Palestinians have fled there. (“According to some estimates, there are now 300 gay Palestinian men secretly living and working in Israel. Their willingness to live there — despite the risk of being detained and deported as a security threat — is due to Palestinian attitudes toward gay men, they claim.”) In April this year, Israel took flack from the Catholic Church for allowing a gay-pride parade in Jerusalem. And then there is this:

The right to be openly gay has been acknowledged in the Israeli military since 1993, and there is little evidence that policy has caused any problems. Even beyond the army, Israeli law is generally progressive on issues of sexual orientation. Even though marriage is controlled by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinic establishment, Israeli authorities recognize same-sex marriages performed abroad, and same-sex partners receive the same economic benefits as married couples.

“Out” magazine has named Tel Aviv the gay capital of the Middle East in acknowledgment of its thriving gay culture.

Military expert Levy said the editor of the primary army newspaper, Bamachane, is openly gay. He estimates the percentage of gay soldiers at 10 percent in general and somewhat less in field units.

Former soldier [Eli] Kaplan said certain intelligence and naval units were known for having a large proportion of gay soldiers.

So there have been plenty of “signs” of Israel’s tolerance and acceptance of gays, despite the AP’s obtuseness. And no, the left in America and the elites of the “international community” don’t give a darn about any of that. Why? Because it’s the Jewish state and the rules are different.

Read Less

The South Park Test

I admit it. Until now I have always been a bit of an Islamophobia skeptic. Living in the Middle East, I have no illusions about what radical Islam, given the right kinds of fuel and the right weapons of oppression, can do in the parts of the world under its control, or to immediate neighbors who challenge its reign. And while I share in many Europeans’ concern about the spread of violent Islam’s influence across the Continent, I have never really seen it as cause for panic about the future of Western civilization, or even of Europe. An inveterate optimist, I have a great deal of faith that Europeans, deep down, understand what has made them special and will do what’s needed to defend themselves and their culture. And as for the U.S.? It frankly never occurred to me that there was any danger, not now, not ever. Americans cherish their freedom too much and are too willing to defend it even by force of arms for fans of Jefferson and Paine to be truly worried.

Until now. And all because of South Park.

For those of you who’ve missed it, this week South Park attempted to parody the prophet Muhammad, just as it’s parodied Jesus, God, Moses, and every institution of religion big enough to merit its parody. Yet after an Islamist website posted a veiled threat, to the effect that the creators of South Park would end up like Theo Van Gogh, the film director murdered in Amsterdam for publicly criticizing Islam, the folks at Comedy Central buckled. The episode was removed from the website. For more details about this and similar acts of self-censorship in the past few months, read Ross Douthat’s crucial column in the New York Times.

Something has gone terribly wrong. The core of liberal society is the belief that every new thought, every iconoclasm, every “dangerous” idea, can be uttered somewhere, by someone, as long as it doesn’t openly incite violence — and that every sacred cow is ultimately just a cow. I may watch my tongue about the things I hold sacred, but as long as others have a right to criticize, parody, or publicly rebuke even those things I revere without fear for their lives, I know that society is a free society, and that when the time comes, I too will be protected. (It is the fate of the Jew always to wonder what will happen to him when the mob goes wild. That is why so many Jews are liberals.) Religion, especially, needs to be protected — both its affirmation and its negation — precisely because religion claims to hold in its hands the ultimate truths, on which life and death, war and peace, often turn. And the more power hungry a given religion appears to be, the more we have to protect every person’s right to critique it, whether through parody or public debate. Nor is this just a matter of legal rights: the moment someone feels that his life is in danger because he publicly criticized a religious figure or institution, we are all in trouble.

No cultural institution in our world has embodied this right more than South Park. Aside from being very, very funny (my apologies to the dour souls who disagree), it is also often vile, filled with offensive ideas, language, images, and more. I have often been forced to turn it off, especially if kids are watching. But that’s the whole point of it, as everyone knows. South Park has, until now, been the one place where every holy thing can be made fun of, every taboo broken — especially religion, in the best tradition of Voltaire and Monty Python. Nobody has to watch it if they don’t like it. But it should be out there, somewhere.

With the collapse of South Park‘s credibility as the slayer of all cows, something has been lost, something very deep to the inner logic of liberty. We have caught a glimpse of a world where religion is, well, so sacred as to brook no humor whatsoever. It is a dark world that we escaped several centuries ago, a world where power and claims of ultimate truths fuse together to crush freedom, creativity, and the bold human endeavors that have given us our entire world of scientific and political advancement. In a flash, we moderns are now forced to contend with the myth of our own invincibility: are we so arrogant as to think that modernity can never be undone? (Oh, and another thing: this seems especially ironic at a time when the Catholic Church has been hammered with demands for transparency and accountability an a willingness to defy centuries-old sanctities, yet many of us refuse to demand the same from Islam.)

Many of us have been hoping that the emergence of democracy and liberty around much of the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union could have an impact within the Islamic world as well — that somehow there would emerge a force of religious moderation, a realm of truly free speech, that could some day form the basis of peaceful coexistence and an end to the endless bloodshed. Instead, the battle lines are shifting the other way — and freedom is in retreat. South Park was a temple to the healthy cynicism and pushing of boundaries that have to exist somewhere if we are to feel truly free anywhere. We may hate it, and hate ourselves for enjoying it. But now we need to protect it. Or we, too, like the third-grader South Park recently depicted in a scathing assault on Facebook, will have 0 friends.

I admit it. Until now I have always been a bit of an Islamophobia skeptic. Living in the Middle East, I have no illusions about what radical Islam, given the right kinds of fuel and the right weapons of oppression, can do in the parts of the world under its control, or to immediate neighbors who challenge its reign. And while I share in many Europeans’ concern about the spread of violent Islam’s influence across the Continent, I have never really seen it as cause for panic about the future of Western civilization, or even of Europe. An inveterate optimist, I have a great deal of faith that Europeans, deep down, understand what has made them special and will do what’s needed to defend themselves and their culture. And as for the U.S.? It frankly never occurred to me that there was any danger, not now, not ever. Americans cherish their freedom too much and are too willing to defend it even by force of arms for fans of Jefferson and Paine to be truly worried.

Until now. And all because of South Park.

For those of you who’ve missed it, this week South Park attempted to parody the prophet Muhammad, just as it’s parodied Jesus, God, Moses, and every institution of religion big enough to merit its parody. Yet after an Islamist website posted a veiled threat, to the effect that the creators of South Park would end up like Theo Van Gogh, the film director murdered in Amsterdam for publicly criticizing Islam, the folks at Comedy Central buckled. The episode was removed from the website. For more details about this and similar acts of self-censorship in the past few months, read Ross Douthat’s crucial column in the New York Times.

Something has gone terribly wrong. The core of liberal society is the belief that every new thought, every iconoclasm, every “dangerous” idea, can be uttered somewhere, by someone, as long as it doesn’t openly incite violence — and that every sacred cow is ultimately just a cow. I may watch my tongue about the things I hold sacred, but as long as others have a right to criticize, parody, or publicly rebuke even those things I revere without fear for their lives, I know that society is a free society, and that when the time comes, I too will be protected. (It is the fate of the Jew always to wonder what will happen to him when the mob goes wild. That is why so many Jews are liberals.) Religion, especially, needs to be protected — both its affirmation and its negation — precisely because religion claims to hold in its hands the ultimate truths, on which life and death, war and peace, often turn. And the more power hungry a given religion appears to be, the more we have to protect every person’s right to critique it, whether through parody or public debate. Nor is this just a matter of legal rights: the moment someone feels that his life is in danger because he publicly criticized a religious figure or institution, we are all in trouble.

No cultural institution in our world has embodied this right more than South Park. Aside from being very, very funny (my apologies to the dour souls who disagree), it is also often vile, filled with offensive ideas, language, images, and more. I have often been forced to turn it off, especially if kids are watching. But that’s the whole point of it, as everyone knows. South Park has, until now, been the one place where every holy thing can be made fun of, every taboo broken — especially religion, in the best tradition of Voltaire and Monty Python. Nobody has to watch it if they don’t like it. But it should be out there, somewhere.

With the collapse of South Park‘s credibility as the slayer of all cows, something has been lost, something very deep to the inner logic of liberty. We have caught a glimpse of a world where religion is, well, so sacred as to brook no humor whatsoever. It is a dark world that we escaped several centuries ago, a world where power and claims of ultimate truths fuse together to crush freedom, creativity, and the bold human endeavors that have given us our entire world of scientific and political advancement. In a flash, we moderns are now forced to contend with the myth of our own invincibility: are we so arrogant as to think that modernity can never be undone? (Oh, and another thing: this seems especially ironic at a time when the Catholic Church has been hammered with demands for transparency and accountability an a willingness to defy centuries-old sanctities, yet many of us refuse to demand the same from Islam.)

Many of us have been hoping that the emergence of democracy and liberty around much of the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union could have an impact within the Islamic world as well — that somehow there would emerge a force of religious moderation, a realm of truly free speech, that could some day form the basis of peaceful coexistence and an end to the endless bloodshed. Instead, the battle lines are shifting the other way — and freedom is in retreat. South Park was a temple to the healthy cynicism and pushing of boundaries that have to exist somewhere if we are to feel truly free anywhere. We may hate it, and hate ourselves for enjoying it. But now we need to protect it. Or we, too, like the third-grader South Park recently depicted in a scathing assault on Facebook, will have 0 friends.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.